Drumcell & Vangelis of Raíz (Droid Behavior) Talk LA Techno & Workflow with Reaktor Blocks

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In late September at the 2015 Decibel Festival Conference, Native Instruments hosted a special “Native Sessions” panel in conjunction with release of it’s new Reaktor 6 virtual instrument collection. Reaktor 6 is an incredible, creative tool that allows you to design your own virtual instruments. With the introduction of Reaktor’s “Blocks”, it has even become more like a virtual modular synthesizer, where you can use Blocks to build complex, evolving instruments more easily that ever before.

The panel that took place featured prominent techno producers Drumcell and Vangelis of duo Raíz, who are members of innovative West Coast crew Droid Behavior. In this interview, we learn more about where Droid Behavior is headed along with the way they incorporate Reaktor into their own workflow.

CreativeLive: To start off, you’ve been involved with growing Droid Behavior for many years now. How have you seen Droid Behavior evolve and where do you see things going?

Drumcell: In the beginning with Droid, I think our destination and goal was to essentially create a techno scene locally in LA because it’s hard to be someone who wants to be known on an international scale unless you have some sort of a home base. Kind of somewhat in the way Detroit had its own techno scene, Chicago had its own scene; we wanted LA to have its own foundation and its own crew of people that came from this city.

Vangelis: I know for us, techno was always the very purest thing, the kind of techno that we really became passionate about early on was not the easily digestible, mainstream stuff that you hear today, you know stuff that maybe Drumcode or Minus is releasing these days. So I think for us or at least for me, it’s been important to not forget those roots and to really stay true to the music. Even as EDM is really showing a lot of attention on Techno right now, I’m not trying to sell it out in that sense. I think it’s important as American artists, that we hold this tradition that came from the ’90s in Detroit, New York and Chicago.

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This is a passion for me, so I’m not really willing to compromise the art of it all for the sake of popularity or success. But at the same time I feel like it’s important that we try and reach as many people as possible, without really sacrificing the integrity of what we’re about. We’ve always been trying to expose the music to new crowds, get people to understand it. I think techno is something people don’t usually get, but when you provide it to them in the right environment, in the right way and then it just clicks, there’s something that they understand on a much deeper level.

CreativeLive: You are both classically trained musicians. How did you begin making the transition into electronic music production?

Drumcell: I have been playing music since I was old enough to hold something in my hands. I went through the whole process of piano lessons, guitar lessons, even in high school marching bands from playing trumpets to being in the drum line. Then eventually when I started taking guitar more seriously I join a few local pop bands. I think I hit a stage in my life where I was kind of, somewhat prejudiced to the dance music industry, probably just from the lack of knowledge. I was playing in rock bands, and there was that whole typical perspective of the ’90s, that separation between people who played real instruments, and these DJs who claimed to be musicians by playing records.

I began to listening to a lot of industrial music, and I was intrigued by drum machines and stuff like that. That stuff really blew me away. It wasn’t until I finally lost a drummer in a rock band, that I bought a drum machine, because I didn’t want anything to slow me down when writing music, and learned to program drums and just play guitar over it. That really introduced me into using electronic music instruments, and that went into synthesizers, and then I went to my first rave, and I saw it all with my own eyes. I fell in love and that prejudice just disappeared. That’s a really long story summed up very quickly.

CreativeLive: Now let’s talk about your workshop. Native Instruments Reaktor 6 was recently released, and there’s a lot of similarities in the digital world, that traditional hardware modular synths have been doing for a while. How was Native Instruments Reaktor first introduced to you guys and how has it evolved in your music production process?

Vangelis: I remember first hearing about Native Instruments Reaktor through some of the local techno producers that were coming up, or getting to know early on before we started Droid Behavior, and I just remember hearing about how alien it was and unique it was compared to all the other virtual instruments that were out at the time.

It was pretty easy to get something sound really wacky and crazy. In that way, it was as easy to work with to get something unique sounding, but then if you really wanted to get deep into it, it was a pretty complex plug in. Now, it’s pretty cool that we’ve gotten to this virtual modular world, where I could build a synth inside a computer that would probably cost me $2,000 starting off the bat, to go out and buy the analog modules. It’s great for learning synthesis as well.

CreativeLive: In synthesis, and in both the virtual modular and hardware modular worlds, there’s many different creative approaches. Two that stand out are first, with the synthesizer you can do something really planned out in terms of the way it will sound. There’s also the approach of giving a synthesizer a bunch of different parameters, specify a bunch of different ranges, and then that synth takes on a life of its own to do something a bit more generative. In terms of your music personally, how do you incorporate both of those approaches? Do you gravitate to something that’s a little bit more generative, versus something that’s a bit more planned out?

Drumcell: The modular synth world really opened a lot of doors of creativity for me. I really don’t really lean towards the generative mode. I’m a big believer on the happy accident thing, where sometimes a certain part of your creative mind doesn’t always necessarily have to be so incredibly technical in order to create great music.

In the ’90s when a lot of set systems and companies were coming out with all these different machines with set signal flow paths, and all these incredibly deep, menu driven, diving into systems to completely design patches was just really uninspiring for me.

I hated it, and when I first got my first hand on a modular synthesizer, it was super easy to, on the surface, have all the knobs, and see the entire signal flow and path of your audio moving in a particular direction, that I knew exactly what was going on with my system at any given time. That was something that I totally alienated myself from software for a while, because I was really just digging having complete control over planning the sounds that I wanted to have.

I think the great thing about having Reaktor 6 is that, I am now capable to write music on the road again. I can travel and be able to write a patch, and have that same comfort that I have at a modular synth on my laptop. Because for a while, I haven’t written any new music, because I have been traveling so much, that I haven’t had any time in my studio.

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